Finding Structure in Your Writing

Monday, May 23, 2011
Have you ever had the problem with your writing where the flow seems stilted? The organization is a hodgepodge? What do you do?
There are several ways to drill into the piece. One way is, when you haven't used an outline in the beginning, one of the things you can do is to step away from the piece--whether fiction or nonfiction--and look at what you've written as if it is just unloading your brain and emptying all your research/knowledge out onto the page.
Think: What is the purpose of the piece? If it is fiction, where will it fit in the arc of the story? If it is nonfiction, what is the purpose of the piece?
Double-space and print what you've written. Take some different colored pens or pencils and look, line-by-line, for common themes or elements. For Theme A, use a red pencil; for Theme B, use purple; Theme C, use blue.
Once you've used this rainbow method, list out the different themes or subjects to determine where the various themes might fit in the larger work or to help devise the thesis or narrative arc. Study your list to see if any one area is smaller than the other. Is that an area that needs fleshing out or removing?
The first few times I tried this (on mainly my nonfiction writing), it was a little awkward. But the stepping away from the manuscript for short while, makes it much easier to re-focus my efforts and see the piece with new eyes. Bringing those rested eyes (and brain) and the colors is a fresh way to see how to impose a structure on a piece.

Elizabeth King Humphrey is a writer living in North Carolina.


Sioux Roslawski said...

If it's a fictional piece, I also cut it apart (literally) into sections and fiddle around...put the end at the beginning, and then go back...start at the middle and go back and forth, past and present, and tell the story.

There was one memoir I struggled with, but when I switched from prose to writing it as a free verse poem, it just flowed...

Thanks for this post.

Unknown said...

That rainbow idea really appeals to me, Elizabeth! It makes so much sense.
Also, it does help to step back from a piece of writing of any sort, it seems to me.
Great practical suggestions!

Elizabeth King Humphrey said...

Yes, I enjoy grabbing the scissors, as long as I don't leave them out too long and let the kids get a hold of them!
I think I like the colors because it also taps into the more creative side of my brain.
Thanks for the comments!

Anonymous said...

Funny thing -- I've used this strategy before, but when learning music. I guess the same artistic/thematic principles apply across the board. :)

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